First Look: The World Ends With You

Alternative title(s): Subarashiki Kono Sekai The Animation
Game Adaptation by Shin-Ei Animation and Domerica
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

Waking up a ghost in the middle of Shibuya Crossing, amnesiac Neku Sakuraba finds himself competing in the Reapers’ Game, a weeklong struggle for survival that takes place in a parallel universe known as the Underground. He teams up with a girl named Shiki Mikami, but their partnership gets off to a rough start once the Reapers make their appearance.

Aqua’s verdict: Out of its Vector

The World Ends With You is a game I played during a formative period in my life, and alongside Persona 4 taught me everything I know about friendship that a lack of friends prevented me from learning in real life. Yes, the irony is not lost on me. In any case, what with me being an insufferable dork and this game being so important to me, I have spent at least one whole summer fantasizing what a potential The World Ends With You anime could look like. I’m smarter now than to believe anything good will ever come out of an anime based on something I love, but even back then I realized adapting this game would be quite the undertaking. How would you adapt the way it looks, for starters? If it’s any relief, the adaptation we’re being served at the eve of a long-awaited sequel’s release can answer this question with swaggering confidence. The success with which it brings the distinct art style of the game to life through a surprisingly effective blend of traditional animation and CGI is astonishing and the direction makes good use of this vibrancy. This anime looks and sounds like what a The World Ends With You adaptation should look and sound like. If all you want is a trip down memory lane in anticipation for the sequel, this is the show for you. If you want a narrative that fits its medium like a glove the way the game did, however… well, we’ll need to have a word.

Let’s get one thing out of the way — Yes, this anime adaptation thankfully eschews a literal adoption of most of the original game’s infamously eldritch quirks — something you’d think would be a given, but in this godforsaken medium you never know. Nevertheless, it still spends too much time slavishly aping the game’s structure to really amount to anything as an anime. The first missions Neku and Shiki have to tackle are still the tutorials they were in the original, but stripped of their context, they make the Reapers’ Game look like a leisurely stroll through Shibuya’s shopping streets. I would have loved to see this adaptation fill in the gaps left open by jettisoning the many parts of the original that wouldn’t work anywhere and anywhen else than as a video game on the Nintendo DS in 2007, and create a cohesive narrative whole fit for television. Yet from this first episode, it becomes clear that these holes have just been left to gape, resulting in a scattershot, piecemeal adaptation that pinballs its characters around a theme park parade of the original’s highlights with a surprising lot of Rhyme, but very little reason.

There’s one elephant in the room, though, that makes it hard for me to claim I would have done a better job at adapting The World Ends With You than the teams at Shin-Ei Animation and Domerica did with this version. Twelve episodes simply isn’t enough to adapt that game into anything more than just a commercial, at least not if one were to stick to its rigid narrative structure. The deplorable fact of the matter is that now that the adaptation I’d imagined is finally here, it turns out to be as incapable as I had been all those years ago. The World Ends With You, this thoroughly bonkers artifact of a bygone era, with all its crunchy mechanics and spinning plates, and all its being built from the ground up to accommodate the many gimmicks of the hardware it was released on, has a soul, an identity that is invariably tied to its very existence as a video game. As such, trying to turn it into anything it fundamentally is not, is a fool’s errand. The original’s story and gameplay, contrived and bizarre as they were, danced in beautiful symbiosis. The latter reflected the former’s setting and themes of connection and cooperation, while the former justified the latter’s many quirks and somehow wove them all together into a unique whole. The adaptation, however, pries the two apart, leaving the narrative alone on the dancefloor to bleed out and die.

Iro’s verdict: Don’t Forget to Pre-Order the Sequel!

This entire endeavor makes way more sense as some kind of extended commercial for NEO: The World Ends With You, out this summer. I can’t deny there’s a fair amount of effort put into the show, primarily in reproducing the aesthetics of the original game. The CG is decent enough and barring a couple of bizarrely interpolated shots, everything looks totally fine, good even… it’s just that the story seems like it would be jumpy and slapshod for anyone who hadn’t already played the game. I have played the game – I would consider myself as remembering it fairly well considering it came out in 2007 – and I still had trouble keeping up. But, who’s watching this except people who already care about the franchise and are potentially interested in dropping cash on the sequel? It is what it is, I suppose.

Zigg’s verdict: World End Economica

My relationship with The World Ends With You is sort of odd – I adored its funky style and aesthetics, but loathed playing it and was mostly indifferent to the story. Also, it was long time ago! As it is, I’d say I found this adaptation sufficient, but very rarely did it go beyond that. The major issue here is excessive aping of the exact way the narrative unfolds in the original game, which means we get a lot of awkward dialogue and forced exposition that screams ‘video game tutorial’, with precious little work done to make it flow better for the non-interactive medium. Visually I’m impressed that Shin-Ei managed to nail the look of the original and faithfully translate it into something that works in full motion. Even the all CGI bits are solid and add some dynamism to the camerawork. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is a very low framerate, which leaves the action scenes looking excessively jerky and stilted. Overall, this is a competent, workmanlike adaptation, but nothing to write home about and I doubt it’ll convert anybody who isn’t already a fan.

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